Cities are major contributors to the world’s carbon footprint— urban areas currently produce about 70% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, and as cities rapidly grow and expand over the next few decades, this percentage is only expected to increase. Multiple studies have shown that much of a city’s energy consumption is determined by its buildings and transportation networks.
In cities where such infrastructure is efficient, such as New York, an urban household is able to reduce its carbon footprint in relation to suburban neighbors; in less efficient cities, the urban household has a larger footprint. Improving urban transportation options has the potential to greatly impact the global carbon footprint.
Urban areas currently produce about 70% of total global greenhouse gas emissions
Public transportation has long been heralded as a greener alternative to private or individual transportation. Logically, it follows that the more people there are on public transit, the fewer people there will be in cars, and the less carbon will be emitted per commute.
If enough people choose public transportation over private, the space needed for private transportation is also reduced. Valuable urban land that would be dedicated to multi-lane highways or parking lots could be repurposed as green spaces or bike lanes (another sustainable transportation option).
Governments and organizations have taken notice of the advantages of public transportation and are working to make it a more accessible and enticing option. Luxembourg is set to make all its public transportation free starting in 2020. San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C., all require employers to provide commuter benefits.
For example, in San Francisco, companies with more than 50 employees must offer either a pre-tax deduction or monthly subsidy to pay for transit or provide a form of shared transportation for employees. Many companies, such as Nike in Portland, also choose to offer incentives for taking public transit.
However, while taking public transportation definitely reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, its effect on a city’s carbon footprint is more complicated. The city must also factor in the energy required to build, maintain, and operate their public transportation systems. It is not enough for public transit to simply exist within a city; the city must also aim to make the infrastructure as clean and efficient as possible.
One common method of doing this is by replacing diesel-powered vehicles with electric vehicles. Copenhagen aiming to convert its entire public bus system to electric vehicles by 2030. Paris has similar goals, planning to run only electric buses or buses that rely on non-fossil fuels by 2025.
Solar power is also becoming increasingly popular. Santiago plans on taking advantage of the Atacama Desert to use solar and wind power for its subway system. Melbourne’s tram network, which is the largest in the world, is in the process of building a solar plant and will switch to solar power by the end of 2019.
Developing public transportation infrastructure is a promising method for cities to reduce their carbon footprint. By encouraging the use of existing public transit systems and innovating for greener transportation technologies, cities are able to greatly improve their transport sustainability.
By Nancy Lu